The first book I wrote that made it into print was ‘Shooting Dr. Jack,’ and the first place I saw an actual, genuine, for-sale copy of the hardcover edition was, I think, at an independant bookseller not far from my house. (For you younger folks, back in the day, if you wanted to buy a book, you had to physically remove yourself from your domicile and undertake the journey to your local bookseller, which was a location, a person, and an avocation. The aforementioned bookseller probably knew you, at least by sight, most likely remembered something about your tastes in reading material, and was generally a great source of conversation, reviews, and even suggestions as to what you might read next. You could walk among rows of newly-minted works, you could pick up those that interested you and even have a look inside. The place served as a temple, a monument of sorts to those of us who could actually think… Oh, never mind.) Up until that point, the closest thing to a finished copy I had seen was an earlier draft meant for reviewers. Anyway, that moment in the bookstore was the culmination of years of effort, much of which seemed a lot like tilting at windmills. And sometimes still does, to be honest. But it was a moment, even to an emotionally stunted clod such as myself.
And, maybe, a bit anti-climactic.
There are many rites of passage in life, many pivotal moments, and most of them pass without much fanfare. I was the same guy the day after that event that I had been the day before, and yet I wasn’t. It is mostly in hindsight that I notice those moments. For that particular one, I was a bit stunned, because there was my book, sharing shelf space with works whose authors I had been reading most of my life.
That was nice, but it was far from the biggest shock I got on my journey to publication. That came when I got the first call from Darth Vader, my agent. Right up until that point, the only other human being who knew I was trying to write was my wife. Now I’m not suggesting that she’s easy to impress, because she’s not, but I could not put any credence in her opinions about my abilities as an author. I did not talk about writing, I didn’t show what I was working on to anyone, I kept the whole thing in my back pocket, out of sight. Telling someone that you wanted to be a writer, to me, seemed very much like telling them that you wanted to be a pirate, or a cowboy. Dude, you’re a grown-ass man, I told myself. Get over it. Funny, isn’t it, how you have to give yourself permission to dream? The only way I was able to persevere was to keep my secret close, and safe. I was never so vulnerable as when I was working on that first draft. And then when you finish it (you are not finished), what do you do with the bloody thing? God help you, you have to let someone see it…
First you have to write a query letter, but that’s a topic for another day.
Anyway, the shock came one Saturday afternoon when I got home and found Vader’s voice on my answering machine. ‘I am halfway through your manuscript,’ he said, ‘and unless this completely falls apart in the second half, we are going to be working together.’ And that moment, everything changed, the tectonic plates shifted, heaven opened and doves flew up to God, well, no, they didn’t, actually. There were no earthquakes, no pigeons, no music, but from that point on, I was different.
Vader had given me permission to dream.
I wonder if he knows.
Lots of momentous (to me) events followed, but they all paled in comparison. The book came out, I GOT PAID!, another book followed, and a few more after that, but nothing matched the impact of hearing Darth’s voice, that first time. Up until then, I was, in my mind, a grown-up guy hiding an eye-patch and a plastic sword.
After that I was a fucking pirate.
So I have a new book coming out in a few weeks, I posted about it earlier, it’s called ‘Shadow Of A Thief.’ I don’t expect the seas to part, I don’t even expect flights of pigeons. You know what, in the Bronx, they seem to walk about half of the time, which I totally do not understand. But my point is, and I do have one, the publication date seems a bit anti-climactic. If you read the book, and you should, you might like it and you might think it blows chunks, but that’s okay. I know myself well enough at this point to be reasonably confident that it’s close to the best I can do, and I can’t expect any more than that.
If I have anything useful to pass along to anyone who’s suffering with that vulnerable, naked feeling that comes with an unpublished manuscript, don’t make the mistake I did, don’t wait for someone to give you permission to dream. Grab your sword and your eyepatch and give it hell.